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You’ve read their reviews. You’ve seen them come to the Look at the elements of the superfan definition:
rescue of brands in crisis. You probably know a few, especially
1. Alignment with your value proposition
if you fly on Virgin America or JetBlue, own an iAnything, or
buy shoes from Zappos. 2. Proof through actual experience
The superfan. 3. A tangible improvement in the quality of one’s life
The “Oh no you didn’t just say that about my brand!” advocate 4. The belief that sharing will improve the lives of others
ready to go mano a mano just because. In this week’s column
I want to dive into what builds a real superfan.
It Starts With Sharing
In my book “Social Media Marketing: The Next Generation
What is a superfan and why do they exist? of Business of Engagement” (2010, Wiley & Sons) I defined
Simply, a superfan is someone who understands and the “Ladder of Engagement,” a concept developed with
personally aligns with your fundamental value proposition. colleagues Gaurav Mishra and Gautam Ghosh while I
As a result of direct customer experiences, the superfan has was working in New Delhi, India. This “ladder” provided a
come to believe that through this alignment her life is better. structure through which casual contact with a brand—for
example, watching an ad - could be elevated through specific
On the social web, the superfan adds to this core definition
stages to evangelical behavior.
the belief that if personal testimony about your brand is
shared with others seeking or potentially needing the product The linchpin in that escalation is positive customer
or service you provide, that the recipient of this information experience linked to one’s social graph by the ability to share
will experience a better life as well. No kidding. The superfan that experience or the artifacts of it. (You may not be able
raison d’être is that big, and it’s proof-based. to “share” an in-flight experience, for example, but you can
videotape it and share that video along with your comments.)
Proof Through Experience
A second conceptual framework is also defined in that
same book. That is, successful communities are not built
around ads and prize promotions (though both are effective
marketing tools). Instead, successful communities are built
by a principled focus on a lifestyle, passion, or cause that a Case Study: Boingo
durable community will form around. Dell did this with its Consider an actual example: Boingo. If you’re thinking “Yeah,
“Take Your Own Path” and “Digital Nomads” communities. sure, Apple, Virgin America, Ford (I live in Texas…), Zappos…
American Express did it with its Open Forum community. can have superfans but not my brand,” think again. Boingo,
Put these two concepts together - the Ladder of Engagement a provider of mobile Wi-Fi, is a brand that you buy based on
and orientation of a community around a lifestyle, passion, a recommendation, and then hardly notice until some event
or cause - and you have the basic blueprint to build your prods you into paying attention.
For me, it was the back-and-forth from Austin, TX, to New
Let’s go back to the four points listed above. The superfan Delhi that did it. I noticed that of the hundreds of times
1) feels a genuine alignment with your brand around some Boingo service worked flawlessly (aka, “invisible to the
passion, lifestyle, or cause, which has been 2) proven customer”) that every once in a while the Wi-Fi connection…
through actual experience to 3) improve one’s life in the didn’t connect.
context of a lifestyle, passion, or cause and 4) can be shared
So I’d ping Boingo via Twitter using my mobile phone. Each
easily with others (the collaboration and creation stages in
time, within five to 10 minutes, I’d have a response offering
the Ladder of Engagement).
help! Boingo’s social media and customer care champion,
Baochi Nguyen (@baoch), had a service standard of “immediate
response” on social channels. That got my attention.
It’s important to understand that I am not some super-
influencer (I have no idea what my Klout score is; I assume
it’s pretty low) nor do I write about technology or business/
mobility tools that would have put me on Boingo’s radar. I was
simply a Boingo customer with a need.
Baochi and her team understood the fundamental connection
between my lifestyle (highly mobile) and her brand promise:
stay connected while on the go. The responsiveness to my
requests for assistance is what hooked me.
But wait, there’s more.
Once hooked, I started paying more attention to Boingo. I
realized there were some things that I wanted in the service
that weren’t there. So I wrote to the engineering team. They
wrote back (!) and thanked me (!!). I was, in effect, moving up
the Ladder of Engagement, and Boingo was helping me take
every step. Then, “brand-customer nirvana” happened.
That’s good. Happy customers tend to renew
Features I’d asked for showed up in the next release of But search Google for “dave evans boingo.”
Boingo’s software. Signed, sealed, delivered. Dave Evans was That’s the payoff. It’s the Social Feedback Cycle -
from that point forward a Boingo superfan. In fact, you can “Awareness→Consideration→Purchase→Sharing” — that
go to the Boingo website and see all of the Boingo superfans, amplifies marketing efforts and drives purchases by creating
including Aaron Strout who originally recommended Boingo shared content that is discovered during “consideration” as
to me. See how all of this connects? It’s that circle thing. potential customers take to the web in search of ratings,
reviews, and recommendations.
So how do you build superfans? Baochi has written a guide
that outlines the process she uses. Porter Gale, former VP, Rather than obsessing over the number of followers, pay
marketing, at Virgin America, offers her process in this AdAge attention to customers that are 1) knowledgeable about your
article. Both are well worth reading, and note in particular brand and the category you serve and can therefore speak with
(again) the role that sharing plays. authority, and 2) are most likely to actually speak! This isn’t
rocket science. This is another manifestation of the rise of the
A challenge that no doubt faces marketers and customer care social web and the resultant ache you feel in your marketing
teams charged with “getting social right” is making the step gut as you try to step successfully from traditional marketing
from havingsuperfans (a whole process of its own) to seeing (focusing on “the loudest,” which is easily done) to highly
those superfans step up to the evangelical, socially active level targeted social media-based strategies aimed at creating and
that is the ultimate prize. For example, I’m a Boingo superfan. leveraging true advocates (which is much harder.)
Back to Baochi and her current work. Baochi is now with
Ring Central, a provider of phone systems for businesses.
As senior social strategist, Baochi is building Ring Central’s
superfan and customer care programs.
When it came time for our Austin office to set up a phone
system, guess who we reached out to?
I knew Baochi was at Ring Central. The service itself checked As for Ring Central’s superfan program, search Google for
out, and I also knew that if I needed something the person “dave evans ring central” and you’ll see the beginnings of the
on the other end of the support call was committed to 100 same content, pics, and stories that I share with my networks
percent customer satisfaction. about all of the brands I support.
So we signed up, and the experience has been great. I’m a Ready to build your own superfans? Check the resources I’ve
new fan of Ring Central, and based on my experience with the called out, “cuz time is a wastin.”
service I am now part of the superfan program.
Baochi sent out a kit to the superfans containing, among
other things, Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers” and “Strengths-
Based Leadership” by Tom Rath and Barry Conchie. Smart
move, Baochi. By “educating” her superfans, they differentiate
even further the brand strengths and values that drive
Being a superfan of a truly exceptional brand - as defined in
contemporary business and management reading - raises
the level of commitment of the superfan to that brand. I’m
not just a superfan of that company, I am a superfan of that
company! When you see the brands you love in popular books,
there is a certain, “See, I was right about this!” that drives the
superfan ever higher.
About the author
As vice president of social strategy, Dave Evans brings his
vast experience in social innovation to connect our customers’
requirements to Lithium’s product roadmap. As an industry
recognized social media strategist and practitioner, Dave
has worked in social business consulting and development
for over four years. Most recently he worked internationally
with India’s 2020 Social and itsclients, including Bengaluru
International Airport, Intel, Dell, PepsiCo and United Spirits,
with Philips Consumer Business Unit (Amsterdam).
Before that Dave held leadership roles at Austin’s GSD&M’s
Idea City and worked with clients such as Southwest Airlines,
AARP, Wal-Mart, and the PGA TOUR. Dave is a frequent
keynote speaker and in-demand social strategist in Fortune
1000 companies as well as early ventures. He is the best-
selling author of ”Social Media Marketing: An Hour a Day,”
and his second book “Social Media Marketing: The Next
Generation of Business Engagement.”
Follow Dave on Twitter @evansdave